Rural crime campaigners demand changes to ‘archaic’ hare coursing laws
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Farming and countryside groups said “archaic” laws must be urgently updated to help police tackle rural crimes such as hare coursing.
Following a roundtable meeting with Defra, the Home Office and the police, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), alongside the CLA and Countryside Alliance, is calling for the 1831 Game Act to be “brought into the 21st century” to make it easier for police to catch and prosecute criminals.
The end of the harvest signals peak season for hare coursers, who seek out remote farmland to carry out this illegal bloodsport on recently-harvest stubble fields.
The NFU said the current legislation must be improved to give police and courts full seizure and forfeiture powers for dogs and vehicles, and the campaigners are also calling for the removal of existing limits on the penalties that can be imposed – currently a maximum £2,500 fine – and for police officers to be empowered to recover kennelling costs from offenders.
NFU East Anglia regional director Gary Ford said rural crime is regularly highlighted as the biggest concern for farmers across the region, with hare coursing a particular worry at this time of year.
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“The government needs to give rural crime a much higher priority and fully appreciate the impact that it is having on the mental wellbeing of farmers,” he said.
“Hare coursing is a particularly disturbing crime due to the intimidation, the threat of violence and property damage.
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“To put it simply we need a change in the law. There are some straightforward solutions and the Game Act is not fit for purpose.”
READ MORE: ‘Sophisticated and organised’ crime gangs are targeting Norfolk farmsNFU chief land management adviser Sam Durham, who attended the meeting, added: “The end of harvest time should be a celebration for arable farmers but instead it marks the beginning of the hare coursing season, which brings with it threats of violence and intimidation.
“We heard from the police at the roundtable that the tools at their disposal are simply unsuitable and that there needs to be a change to the law to make a real difference. If there is to be lasting change when it comes to tackling rural crime, it needs to come in the form of legislation that will help the police, not hinder them.
“We’re pleased that Defra and the Home Office are listening to our concerns but farmers have had enough and want to see meaningful action.”
Recent figures from rural insurer NFU Mutual show the cost of rural crime has risen to £54m across the country, its highest level for eight years – although Norfolk bucked the national trend by recording a 7.1pc drop in the cost of claims.